I just returned a few weeks ago from Orthodox Christian Fellowship‘s College Conference West where I serve as an advisor to the students there. Every year, there are always a few demons I find lurking around the conference disturbing these incredible young adults.
This year, one that I heard and saw was Overbearing Guilt. This guy, like all the demons, tries to take something good and holy (that twinge in your heart that turns you to repentance when you truly have sinned) and turn it in all sorts of other directions so you feel guilty for too long or for things that are undeserving of guilt.
There are a few things I can (and probably will) say about this nasty demon, but this week, I want to say just this: Your personality is not a sin.
The passions which lead us to sin are not natural to us. St. John Climacus in Step 26 of the Divine Ladder says, “Evil or passion is not something naturally implanted in things. God is not the creator of passions.” And later, “We have taken natural attributes of our own and turned them into passions.” In other words, sins arise not from our nature, but from our will. Our sins are perversions of goodness that we choose.
By itself, our personality, the particular manner in which we relate to the world most easily, is not a sin. Certain personalities may have propensities towards certain sins but likewise they have potential for great virtue.
Let me give you an example.
I, for one, am not exactly the quietest gal. I love good conversation. Now, on the one hand, of course, this characteristic of mine has some pretty big temptations: gossip, idle talk, boastfulness–and of these I most certainly must be aware and on guard. On the other hand, if rightly directed, a love for conversation can develop by grace into a ministry; from it can arise hospitality, teaching, preaching, and evangelism. On its own, its nothing–it’s just a fact about me that I relate to others through conversation. Goodness is not an option between quiet or talkative–it’s a decision about how I will use my words.
Too often we allow Overbearing Guilt to follow us around, and we listen as he tells us who we are is a problem so that we become distracted from directing ourselves towards the good. It’s as if we are standing where the road divides: ahead of us are three clear, good paths and three dark paths. Instead of simply taking a step down one of the clear paths, we are paralyzed with guilt over the fact that we’re disappointed by the color or number or scent of the flowers along the sides of the three clear paths. We don’t appreciate them simply for their beauty and their ability to reflect God, we just want them to look or smell like the flowers we imagined would be along the good path. Unsurprisingly, we make no progress.
Don’t get me wrong–this isn’t a means for us to excuse ourselves from sin. In fact, it’s rather important for us to know what kinds of temptations to which we’re most likely to fall prey. That keeps us focused on where our repentance should actually be directed. But this is a plea that we set aside an unhealthy desire to fit a certain mold, to dismiss the places in our hearts where God could and would work if only we could see that there’s potential for holiness there. It’s a plea to be thankful for all of God’s creation, and that includes ourselves.